Catholic Charities resumes in-person Spring Celebration

BOSTON -- For the past two years, Catholic Charities of Boston has been unable to gather in person to recognize their members and the people they serve as they normally would. This was both unfortunate and ironic, as people depended all the more on their services in light of the COVID economic impact. But after holding virtual fundraisers for the past two years, this year, they were once again able to hold their annual Spring Celebration in person, allowing them to honor their staff, volunteers, partners, and supporters.

The event, described on the Catholic Charities website as a "reimagined cocktail gala," took place at the John F. Kennedy Museum and Library on May 19. Dozens of attendees were able to mingle and enjoy drinks and food before the speaking program.

Kelley Tuthill, chief operating officer, and Father John Unni, pastor of St. Cecilia Parish, offered welcoming remarks. Then Kevin M. MacKenzie, Catholic Charities' CEO and board chair, spoke about the work of their four core service areas: Basic Needs, Family and Youth Services, Adult Education and Workforce Development, and Refugee and Immigrant Services.

"My message tonight is one of immense gratitude to all of you. During these challenging times, we've come together as a community in an even greater way. Committed to responding to the needs of those in crisis, so many of you did not wait to be asked. You came to us with simple yet powerful questions: how can I help and what do you need?" MacKenzie said.

He singled out the many organizations that Catholic Charities has collaborated with, including Combined Jewish Philanthropies; the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints; community organizations like the Greater Boston Food Bank, the Yawkee Foundation, and the Lynch Foundation; and corporations like Bank of America, the Cummings Foundation, and United Way.

"Your support enables Catholic Charities to serve as a lifeline for thousands of people who seek our help every day. And for that we say thank you," MacKenzie said.

In addition to serving as a fundraiser, the Spring Celebration is the occasion when Catholic Charities presents the annual Justice and Compassion Award to someone who demonstrates charity, compassion, and service. This year, the award was renamed in honor of John and Virginia Kaneb. John Kaneb was the first board chair of Catholic Charities and assisted the organization until his death last summer.

"John was always there with a helping hand for all those in need and served as an invaluable sounding board to me," MacKenzie said.

The John and Virginia Kaneb Justice and Compassion Award was dedicated to the 350 volunteers at 31 sites across the archdiocese that have welcomed Afghan refugees since the Taliban takeover of Afghanistan in August 2021. Thanks to these volunteers' efforts, 160 Afghans were resettled in the archdiocese, ranging in age from newborn to over 65 years.

A video entitled "Together We Respond" was presented to highlight some of the Afghan immigrants and the volunteers who have supported them in their transition. They do this by finding housing, collecting basic items -- including food, clothes, and furniture -- for their arrival, connecting them with local resources, and coordinating any services they need.

The video also highlighted the interfaith aspect of this work, as Catholic Charities has been cooperating with Jewish organizations and synagogue communities to arrange accommodations for newly arrived Afghans, who are predominantly Muslim.

Father Bryan Hehir, the archdiocese's secretary for health and social services, presented the award to four representatives of community sites that have assisted Afghan refugees. The many others in the audience were invited to stand in order to be recognized with applause.

Cardinal Sean P. O'Malley shared brief remarks, commending Catholic Charities for its work.

"It's particularly beautiful to see how people from different churches and faith communities have come together to respond to these very real human needs that we face," he said.

He expressed gratitude to the staff and board of Catholic Charities, who do "so much to make the merciful face of God present in our world."

Also honored during the evening was Debbie Rambo, who served the organization for over 40 years before retiring in 2019. She began as a social worker after college and went on to become Catholic Charities' CEO.

"Over the course of my decades-long career at Catholic Charities, I learned, in so many important ways, that we really are all the same, and that truly, none of us finds our way alone," Rambo said as she addressed the assembly.

She thanked her family as well as the staff, volunteers, and supporters of Catholic Charities.

"Catholic Charities is blessed to have the support of so many in our communities. My deepest gratitude for all that each of you have done and will continue to do as the work of helping to make families stronger, futures brighter, and dreams within reach continues," she said.

Robert Lewis attended the Spring Celebration as one of the representatives of the POWIR (Parishes Organizing to Welcome Immigrants and Refugees) program at St. Julia Parish in Weston.

Speaking to The Pilot after the event, Lewis said all the speakers' speeches were "inspiring" and "did a beautiful job explaining how important Catholic Charities is."

"We help the strangers and we find out the strangers aren't so strange. They're just other humans, but they're in need, and we can be there for them," Lewis said.